NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Tracking the Trucks: 2010 Nashville 200

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In a Nutshell: Kyle Busch took the checkered flag 0.426 seconds ahead of Kevin Harvick to win the Nashville 200 Friday night at Nashville Superspeedway. Busch managed to lap all but seven of the other competitors on the track to score his 40th career Truck Series win and the first for his newly formed team, Kyle Busch Motorsports. Defending series champion Ron Hornaday Jr. took third, with points leader Timothy Peters and Todd Bodine rounding out the top five.

Who Should Have Won: Kyle Busch. Busch started on the pole and was the class of the field all night Friday. Though Peters made a charge at one point and led 17 laps with the help of lapped traffic, no one else appeared to be in the same zip code as the driver of the No. 18 Dollar General Toyota. Busch led 131 of the 150 laps run Friday night, tying the race record set by Scott Riggs in 2001 in scoring the victory. The win marked the first for Busch as driver-owner in just his third attempt (and fourth start overall for the No. 18).

Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race

1. Does Timothy Peters have what it takes to win the title?

When the checkered flag flew over the season opener at Daytona International Speedway, Peters found himself in victory lane and atop the point standings. Three races later, he holds a commanding 82-point lead over Aric Almirola in second with the title chase slowly starting to take shape.

I know it’s somewhat early to be thinking about the championship (there’s still 21 races and seven months left to go). Just four races into last season, Busch held a 38-point lead in the standings, with eventual champ Hornaday Jr. 71 points back. But Busch’s early dominance in the series is never a surprise; seeing Peters, driving in just his second full season, atop the standings is.

So does Peters have what it takes to win it all this season?

This 28-year-old sensation is absolutely a driver that everyone needs to keep an eye on. Friday night, he added a fourth place run to his resume and continued a string of finishing inside the top 10 in all races this season. How good have things been for Peters? So far in 2010, he hasn’t finished worse than seventh (Atlanta – March). So as much as the driver of the No. 17 Crescent Tools/Red Horse Racing Toyota wanted to win the Nashville 200, he is pleased with the direction his team is heading.

“We led some laps. I gave up a little entering pit road on that green-flag stop. All in all, it was a good night,” Peters said after the race. “We’re doing what we have to do. We finished top five, but we sure did want that guitar.”

And he couldn’t be more right. Looking at the big picture, another top-five finish helped to expand the lead he held after Martinsville last weekend by 23 points; and more importantly, it showcases this team’s growing strength on all types of different tracks on the circuit. Since joining Red Horse Racing midway through the 2009 season, Peters has finished outside the top 10 just five times in 19 races. The combination of the resources they bring to the table along with Peters’s natural talent have me convinced he’ll be a serious threat to Hornaday Jr.’s bid to repeat.

2. Are Cup Series regulars becoming the face of the Truck Series?

One of the most important things to me about the Camping World Truck Series has always been its individual identity. Sure, it doesn’t get the ratings or the exposure that it deserves, but I’ve always enjoyed seeing lesser-known drivers or veterans of the series as the stars each week.

Sadly, that has not been the case this season.

Other than Peters’s inspiring Daytona victory, the last three Truck Series races have been won by Sprint Cup drivers: Harvick (Atlanta and Martinsville) and Busch (Nashville). While I understand their love of racing is what puts them behind the wheel in the Truck Series, I can’t help but be a little frustrated with their constant presence and the spotlight they steal from series regulars.

At the same time, I have to commend both Harvick and Busch for competing in trucks they own as opposed to taking a ride away from another team. Sure, the two took qualifying spots in an event where three drivers were sent home, but they’re at least running full-time teams in the series in addition to the races they moonlight in. Besides, it wasn’t an All-Star list of drivers who failed to qualify. You had Mike Harmon, who has run just 64 laps in two races this season; Brian Rose, who hasn’t started in the series since 2003; and rookie Lance Fenton, who was involved in a wreck at Martinsville and performed so poorly, he was released from his team (the No. 95 of Team Gill Racing) following the DNQ.

I expect that Rose and Fenton would have attempted to run the full distance, but you can’t place the blame on Harvick and Busch for their short weekends. The Nashville 200 featured four drivers who ran less than 65 laps Friday night and parked their trucks officially for clutch, vibration or engine problems. Those are spots that could also have easily gone to any of the three drivers that weren’t able to make the race.

So while Harvick and Busch have managed to steal the spotlight for the majority of the season, it’s not a huge problem… yet. They are just two Cup drivers who happen to own high-end teams, and choose to race for them early in the season while enjoying top-level success. As they’re both running fairly limited schedules, the problem isn’t anywhere near what it has become in the Nationwide Series; but NASCAR does need to pay close attention going forward. If some of these drivers are allowed to step up to full-time competition, they’ll quickly lose fans in the series that has notoriously been the most exciting.

Truck Rookie Report
2010 Rookie of the Year Candidates
Brett Butler (No. 47)
Jennifer Jo Cobb (No. 10)
Austin Dillon (No. 3)
Justin Lofton (No. 7)
Dillon Oliver (No. 01)

No. of Rookies in the Race: 6 (add GR Smith, No. 50 MAKE Motorsports Dodge)
No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: 0

Rookie of the Race: Dillon, finished 14th

Note: This year’s rookie class remains without a top-five finish through four starts.

Points Shuffle

Peters continues to hold on to the top spot in the standings with a commanding 82-point lead over Almirola. Bodine, who went into Martinsville last weekend as the point leader sits in third, 93 behind Peters. Harvick and Matt Crafton round out the top five.

Hornaday Jr. jumped six spots after his second top-five finish this season to sixth, but he stills finds himself 178 markers back from the leader. Ricky Carmichael remains in seventh, just one point ahead of Jason White, who dropped two spots after Friday’s race. Tayler Malsam dropped one spot to ninth and sits just two points ahead of his boss, Busch, who jumped 10 spots and rounds out the top 10.

Quotable

“This is so cool to win in your own stuff. We’ve been working some long hours in the shop getting this stuff ready. Eric Phillips (crew chief) did an awesome job. It’s a dream come true to come out and own your own stuff, but to win in it is something special.” – race winner Kyle Busch

“We just didn’t do a very good job with our Charter Chevrolet. On the restarts, it just wouldn’t go. Congratulations to Kyle [Busch]. We knew it was just a matter of time before he would win. He can win in anything. All in all, it was a decent day.” – runner-up Kevin Harvick

“We kind of wasted our practice going to a different setup, and we ended up going with what we’ve always run here halfway through the second practice. The guys at Germain Racing did a hell of a job, and we’ll take a fifth-place finish tonight.” – Todd Bodine

Up Next: The Camping World Truck Series heads to Kansas Speedway in a month for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 250 on Sunday, May 2nd. In 2009, Mike Skinner won after two rain delays; one on Saturday afternoon that pushed the event to Monday, and another on Monday when the rains cut the race short of its scheduled distance. Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. ET; the race can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate.

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